I was thirteen when I was diagnosed with a trifecta of mental illnesses: anorexia nervosa, major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. At first, it didn’t seem real: how could the innocent diet I’d gone on a couple of months earlier have spiraled so far out of control? How could I have become so out of touch with my own body and mind? How could these horrific illnesses, ones I then knew very little about, be happening to me?
It’s easy to get caught up in the poor-me, what-did-I-do-wrong mentality. It’s also easy to feel defeated and hopeless, especially when the statistics are so bleak. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. If untreated, approximately 20% of cases are fatal. Even with treatment, less than 50% will achieve a full recovery, while 30% will improve and the remaining 20% will stay ill forever.
Yet despite the unfavorable odds, nearly eight years later, I’m actively in recovery—and I have been for a while. I’m able to lead a fulfilling and functional life where I work and attend college. I also write, advocate, exercise, and take care of myself and my mental wellbeing. It truly is an incredible feeling when I remember where I once was and reflect on how far I’ve come.
In the two years that followed my diagnosis, I was hospitalized seven times at four different facilities. I was in two residential treatment centers and I was in more outpatient programs and saw more therapists than I can recall. Every day I struggled with the simplest of tasks: getting out of bed, feeding myself, going to school, and coexisting with my family, to name just a few. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, my relationships were painfully strained, and my life was in shambles.
It took these hellacious years of constantly struggling with mental illness to reach a place where I was fed up with the substandard quality of my life. I was fifteen then. All my peers were learning how to drive and starting to think about college, while I still needed twenty-four-seven supervision. I had no friends, no ambitions, no independence, no freedom, no hope, no nothing. I started to wonder: why am I putting myself through this? Why do I think I deserve this?
Fortunately, at the time I was having these revelations, I was in a residential treatment center that was able to help me turn them into motivation to finally commit to my recovery. When I was discharged from the center in early 2016, I was motivated to make it my last inpatient stay. Over five years later, that goal is a reality I live in every day.
This isn’t to say that recovery has been easy; on the contrary, it’s been the opposite. Recovery is a very nebulous and personal thing that is immensely challenging, yet when it works, incredible and beautiful. Above all, recovery is unpredictable. One moment, you could be on the top of the world only to come completely crashing down the next. This was very much the case with my recovery.
But just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With support from my parents and outpatient treatment team, I found a meal plan called the Exchange System that taught me how to eat intuitively and in moderation. I also discovered hobbies and pursuits that gave me hope for the future and an identity outside of my disorder, and a great deal of internal strength and drive. With this support, I was able to navigate those initial ups and downs to reach a better, healthier, and happier place. Now that I know what life beyond anorexia, depression, and anxiety feels like, I never want to go back.
Being in recovery has also opened the door to opportunities I never imagined I’d have. In 2018, at eighteen years old, I published my debut novel Changing Ways, a young adult story about a sixteen-year-old’s journey to overcome anorexia and depression. A year later, I published the sequel Breaking Free.This past November, I published the third and final book in the trilogy, Choosing Life. While they’re marked as fiction, all my books are heavily based on my personal experiences of living with—and surviving—mental illness.
I discovered writing when I was in a dark place and it played a tremendous role in helping me get better. Initially, writing gave me a voice when I had none; then it became an outlet for my repressed feelings and thoughts. Ultimately, writing became my motivator. It gave me hope for my future and an identity that wasn’t dependent on my eating disorder.
When I published my first book a few years ago, I was scared, as I’m sure most people putting themselves out there for the first time would be. I didn’t know how readers would respond or how that would affect my recovery. But the response ended up being incredible and exceeded my expectations, with many people reaching out to me to express how my books helped them with their own mental health or helped them understand a loved one who’s struggling. It inspires me and gives me a reason to keep sharing my story.
Beyond writing and advocacy, I’m enrolled in college and plan to graduate with my bachelor’s degree this December. I have healthy, happy relationships with my family and friends. I love to cook, run, play tennis, public speak, and do so many other activities my mental illnesses previously prevented me from doing. Finally, I’m in a place where I’m comfortable being open and honest about my experiences, and hopefully that will positively impact how society perceives and accepts mental illness.
Everyone’s experience with mental health is different; likewise, so is everyone’s recovery. Mine just so happened to be an unpredictable roller coaster ride that has taken ample time, patience, and grit to smooth out. It was a challenge like none other, however, now that I’m here, now that I’m in recovery, I’m confident that it was worth it. By overcoming the seemingly impossible, I was able to accomplish the incredible.